Guest post: Funding new discoveries with Petridish.org!

March 25, 2012 | Posted by Guest in Research |

This is a guest post by Matt Salzberg, Founder of Petridish.org (full bio below).

If you’re a scientist, you know that funding is becoming harder and harder to find. Traditional sources of funding, such as grants from the National Science Foundation or the National Institute of Health are time intensive, restrictive and slow.  And application success rates have fallen.

That’s why we created Petridish.org – a new tool to help scientists fund worthy projects in need. Petridish is an online community of scientists and everyday science-lovers that allows researchers to connect with private donors interested in their work.

In other fields like art, film, charity and microfinance, we have seen this method of fundraising, known as “crowdfunding,” drive a revolution in the way projects are funded.  Enabled by the mass reach of the internet, projects in these fields have raised hundreds of millions of dollars by pooling the contributions of many to make a large impact. Many of the most notable examples in other fields are sites such as Kiva.org, Donorschoose.org and Kickstarter.com.  In fact, most recently, Kickstarter made headlines when one video game project on their site raised over $2 million from the “crowd.”

So why shouldn’t scientists have a dedicated community too?  The goal of Petridish.org is to provide a platform and community where scientists can promote research, educate and engage the public, and raise money all at once.  Meanwhile, science enthusiasts can donate to projects and be a part of exciting new discoveries.

Here’s how a typical crowdfunding campaign works.  Once approved, scientists create a short video appeal and a description of their research project including the funding goal, tiered donor levels and respective rewards.  For instance, a researcher might offer an acknowledgement in a journal, souvenirs from the field, naming rights to a discovery, or a private lecture to backers.   Science-lovers scan through projects, and back the projects they are passionate about or wish to follow over time. If a project reaches it’s goal, the funds are pooled from donors and transferred to the scientist.

Currently, crowdfunding is best suited for smaller projects, such as early stage pursuits that need preliminary data to apply for a larger grant, or projects adjacent to a current line of research.  Overtime, however, we think we’ll be able to fund larger projects as well.

We’ve already had incredible successes on our site. Most notably, David Kipping, a Harvard astronomer, raised over $10,000 from 200 backers for his project, “Help us find the first exomoon,” and continues to raise more each day.  A few examples of other of great projects are:

  • Adam and Ryan Boyko are brothers who run the Village Dog Project, studying the DNA of wild dogs to understand their evolution.  Adam is a geneticist at Cornell and Ryan is a doctoral student at Yale.  They are raising $8,000 to sample and analyze additional dogs and will provide a genetic analysis of your dog if you back their project!
  • Geoff Giller and Max Lambert are graduate students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and along with professor David Skelly, are seeking $7,000 to evaluate estrogen contamination in suburban drinking water.  You can join them and other backers on a trip to the field, by supporting the project.

All of these projects are exciting and worthy research endeavors, yet lack the funding necessary to get off the ground.  With your help, we can pioneer a completely new way to fund research, and to connect the public more closely with research in action.

Let’s fund some discoveries together!

About the author

Matt Salzberg is the Founder of Petridish.org, a crowdfunding community for scientists.  Previously, Matt worked at Bessemer Venture Partners where he invested in internet and digital media companies, and started his career at the Blackstone Group. He received his BA and MBA from Harvard University, and is a life-long lover of science. You can follow him at @petridishorg.


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